History

Historic view of the convict church at Port Arthur

Historic photograph of the old church at Port Arthur, with horses

Life after the Convicts

Port Arthur's story did not end with the removal of the last convict. Almost immediately the site was renamed Carnarvon and, during the 1880s, land was parcelled up and put to auction, people taking up residence in and around the old site.

Despite devastating fires in 1895 and 1897, which destroyed many old buildings and gutted the Penitentiary, Separate Prison and Hospital, the new residents were determined to create for themselves a township. This led to the creation of new infrastructure, the community gaining such amenities as a post office, cricket club and lawn tennis club.

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Early post convict era picnic at this popular and intriguing Tasmanian tourist attractionAn early twentieth century photograph of picnickers at Port Arthur

With the settlement's closure also came the first tourists, keen to see first-hand the 'horrors' of a penal station. Guiding, the sale of souvenirs and the provision of accommodation provided the experience that the crowds wanted, whilst creating a financial base for the fledgling community, as the tourists opened an outlet for local produce. The original jetty was extended to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers of tourists. By the 1920s and 1930s the Port Arthur area had three hotels and two museums, not to mention guides, catering to tourism.

Unrelated occupations such as timber-getting and agriculture continued, but were overshadowed in importance by tourism, which, though fluctuating throughout the decades with the cycles of economic boom and bust, and the effects of the world wars, never saw Port Arthur lose its place as a key tourism attraction. Recognition of this fact saw the 1927 reinstatement of the name 'Port Arthur'.

Port Arthur Historic Site

In recognition of the tourist potential of the site, the Scenery Preservation Board (SPB) was created in 1916. This took the management of Port Arthur out of local hands. In the 1970s and early 1980s, under the management of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the first real attempts at interpretation were made.

To preserve the integrity of the site, the Tasmanian and Federal Governments were committed to a seven-year conservation and development program. A side effect of this was the complete removal of the 'working' elements of the community, such as the post office and municipal offices, which were removed to nearby Nubeena.

The historic site has been managed by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority since 1987, with funding for conservation work provided by the Tasmanian Government. This period of funding has allowed numerous infrastructure, interpretation and archaeological works, the institution of annual summer archaeological and architectural programs, the opening of the Point Puer boys' prison for guided tours and the acquisition of management responsibility for the Coal Mines Historic Site.